David Garcia on Wed, 14 Apr 2004 20:19:51 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> "A Global Sense of Place"

"A Global Sense of Place"
Report from Eterea 2
Meeting of Italian Tactical Television Makers

March 25-28th, 2004 the second major gathering of the Telestreets took place
in Sennegallia.
Here are some notes from a short visit to the world of Telestreets.

Telestreet, the latest wave in the rich history of Italian media activism,
has been fairly widely reported on this list and elswhere but some of the
basics are worth revisiting briefly.

Telestreets are semie-legal micro-broadcasters, literally street TV makers
using small transmitters to send programes that mostly reach no more than a
few blocks. Telestreets range from making their own local items to capturing
the programming (such as big football matches) from the commercial satellite
operators and re-broadcasting them for free on Telestreet networks.

Telestreets operate between the legal and technological cracks of the
Italian mediascape, squatting the shadows or blank spots which terrestrial
broadcasters cannot reach leaving a shadow on the broadcast spectrum which
the Telestreet groups occupy.

Telestreet reclaims the Œsocializing¹ power of television. As a medium video
retains an immediate accessibility which does not even need to presume
conventional literacy. The immediacy and expressive rewards of making TV has
enabled Telestreet to appeal to a much wider constituency than just "the
movement" or  hacktivists. But despite the apparent return to the earlier
tactics of the broadcast media pirates, Telestreet is a more complex and
interesting hybrid. As their manifesto declared "Television must be
considered a new prosthesis and an extension of the net: but to avoid
another media alternative "ghetto", the horizontally of the net must meet
the "socializing" power of television."

Orfeo TV in Bologna is believed to have started the ball rolling when it
began transmitting in 2002, just a few blocks away from the site of the
legendary Radio Alice, and has since been described as her "bastard
offspring". What began in Bologna with a few transmitters was soon "joined
in a circulation of struggle through a network of websites; they are now
connected through 'tactical television' to other Italian microbroadcasters
like 'no-war TV', 'urban TV', and 'global TV'."  In what Mark Coté describes
"as an emerging network of infrapower".

The Telestreet phenomenon is another splinter from the legacy of the Italian
autonomy movement of the  1960s and 70s, a politics which brought down on
itself the wrath of both right and Italian communist party by privileging
desire and expression over either market forces or party discipline. It
re-booted anarchist ideas for a post-industrial age, introducing notions of
"immaterial labor", "post fordism" and "refusal to work". The influence of
these ideas has fluctuated but grown steadily with fall of the eastern bloc
and the rise of the virtual class. But perhaps only "refusal to work"and
"class composition" have survived the co-option by "communicative
capitalism" and "third way" social democrats.

The first meeting of the Telestreets (Eterea 1) was held in Bologna in 2002
at a point when there were only two or three nodes in existence. But it was
at this meeting when Telestreet was conceived and launched not just as a
platform but as a political campaign. Two years later what began as a small
network of interventions has become a catalyst for wider resistance. Today
the network includes more than a hundred nodes (the number fluctuates daily)
and stretches the length and breadth of Italy.

The Gasparri law and the Counter Reformation
The recent meeting of the Telestreets (Eterea2) was needed to address
questions that had grown more urgent as Telestreet has expanded. With rapid
growth has come  diversity and questions about whether it is still possible
to achieve a common strategy. This was given heightened significance by the
passage of the Gasparri law (Gaspari is the minister of communication),
allowing Berlusconi to consolidate his dominance of the Italian mediascape.
The passing of this law leaves many in the Italy believing that they are
facing an unparalleled political emergency. When I asked the well known
autonomist and writer Franco Berardi (Bifo) how the Berlusconi
administration sought to justify there actions, "what do you mean justify"
he responded in mock amazement "We are a country of the Counter Reformation,
there is no need for argumentation. If you win, you win."

Given the fact that this is a defining moment both for Telestreet and
Italian politics the choice to hold the meeting in Sennegallia, a small
coastal resort was surprising. Indeed this choice along with the agenda of
much of the meeting was resisted by a number of militants in Telestreet. The
dissenting voices argued that the meeting be both attempting a higher
profile and be focused exclusively on mobilizing resistance against the
Berlosconi regime.
There was however one good reason for holding the meeting in Sennegallia and
that reason was the Sennegallia¹s own Telestreet: Disco Volante.

Disco Volante
Nothing about the Disco-Volante studio suggests radical media culture.
It is located in the sleepy back streets of Sennegallia and is part of
"Zelig" a local project in which the disabled and able bodied share a studio
and make art together. The project is the long term initiative of
artist/activist Enea, the buoyant host of the meeting. The front of the
narrow studio space gives no clue that any electronic media are present or
indeed welcome. The studio is an overflowing torrent of collages, maquetts,
sculptures, paintings, decorated found objects and countless toy theaters.
The atmosphere is a mixture of the controlled naiveté and chaos of an artist
from the Cobra era and Geppetto¹s workshop in Pinocchio.
A wall near the entrance is covered with numerous awards and photographs of
ceremonies at which Zelig participants are being honored as well as images
from trips and adventures. This is art and media activism with deep local
The technology of the TV studio in the back of the space sits easily
alongside the paints and carpentry tools that could have been found in any
artist¹s studio of the last 500 years. Enea, the director (this is not a
collective) informs me that this is not art as therapy, neither is it some
"art in the community" project it is simply a space which is open to those
with disabilities to join him in concocting some version of the good life
out of the process of making art together in pleasant surroundings. The fact
that this also happens to be combined with a semi legal TV station that
mixes a relaxed expressionism with militant campaigning for disability
rights is both a fact and appropriately incidental.
Its quite hard to find words to do justice to the atmosphere of energized
generosity that pervades the Zelig studio.

Astonishingly Disco Volante was the first Telestreet to have been forcibly
shut down by the ministry of communication. The actual transmitter was not
confiscated instead it was sealed  by ministry officials, a seal it would be
a criminal offence to break. Enea takes the sealed transmitter around with
him displaying it as an emblem of repression.
Of all the Telestreets to choose as a test case for a ministerial clamp
down, why pick on a channel for disabled people? The explanation lies in the
fact that it was not merely tolerated by Sennigallia¹s local government it
was actively encouraged. This was not only a battle between Telestreets and
the ministry but also between local and national government. These are the
regional complexities of Italian politics, complexities go back a long way,
think for example of the leading role played by the communist party in the
crack down and destruction of Radio Alice in Bologna.

Disco Volante¹s position as test case combined with a supportive local
government willing to sponsor the event made Sennegallia the obvious choice.
But more importantly it also provided the opportunity to mount a direct
challenge to the law by resuming transmisions of the proceedings of the
Telestreet gathering, on channel 52, the frequency from which Disco Volante
had been expelled.

Eterea TV: Channel 52
Transmissions from the meeting began almost immediately but by the end of
the first afternoon there were rumours of the police trying to locate the
source of the transmissions.
By evening the rumours had been confirmed and an impromptu meeting was
called to descide how to respond to the police pressure. We crowded into a
small room at the "colony", where most people were staying and our host
Enea, who was clearly enjoying himself, introduced a local radical lawyer
who was present to advise on the risks and help us weigh up the options.
Enea himself, informed us that he had actually visted the police himself
that afternoon to ask what they intended to do. The officer in charge of
policing the airwaves had declared himself no friend to this law but also
said he was a familly man and not about to lose his job defending us. So
what to do? Carry on transmitting and risk the event being shut down and
equipment being confiscated or back down? Some militants from Naples even
proposed going on the offensive by transmitting on a frequency that would
push the populist commercial Rete 4 off the air. Although the meeting did
not opt to go down this rout, they still decided to go ahead with the
transmissions on channel 52 and indeed to increase their visibility by
making their programs as publicly as possible, out in the market and
surrounding streets and transmitting them the same day. Moreover a reporter
from national broadcaster Rai 3 would be covering the actions to be
transmitted on national television.
The transmissions proceeded without interruption. Later that weekend, on
Sunday night I was amazed to see that indeed this small action in
Sennegallia as well as the Telestreet meeting itself did indeed warrant a
five minute slot on the national news. Italian media militants may be
correct in declaring that they live in a media dictatorship but their work
has more effect and visibility than in most of the rest of Europe By
contrast we in northern Europe inhabit the dictatorships of indifference.

Militants: Activists: Expressevists
The arguments and struggles which dominate Telestreet, can be seen as a
dynamic triangulation between three categories or modalities of the
tactical: militancy, activism and expressevism. Here are some rough working
* Militancy: On the second day of the meeting Franco Berardi (Bifo) spoke up
for militancy when he rounded off his "hair raising" speech by declaring
that in the current political emergency the last thing we should be doing is
"embracing our miserable marginality". In his talk he spoke for those who
favor direct action, for the politics of maximum visibility and playing for
high stakes. For the militants the emphasis on micro-media should not be
translated into the irrelevance of micro-politics.
* Activism: for activists  micro-transmissions and micro-politics far from
being ineffective have a viral power and ultimately can be more significant
than engaging directly with the spectacle of national politics and big
media. Micro media actions can multiply below the radar of the powerful and
only be noticed when they have become to strong to crush. This notion of
activism includes long term and highly situated commitments, like
Disco-Volante (or for that matter Autolabs in Sao Paolo, or Sarai in New
Delhi) whose reverberations go deep and produce new kinds of connective
locality. This practice is less obviously heroic than militancy, it engages
in fresh ways with every day struggles and affirms ordinary life.
* Expressionism: the final essential modality of the tactical, expressivism,
is sometimes referred to rather anemically as "cultural politics" and
sometimes as art. In fact it can be art, but it is also *more* than art and
its specific claim on loyalty is in urgent need of recuperation.
Expressevism is a politics not just of power (i.e. sovereignty) but of
language. The power of language to make and rehearse worlds, worlds whose
forms resist pre-determination. This usage refers to language in the
broadest sense of the word. It includes all experimental arts and invention,
including the technological.  Expressevist politics are based on our
awareness that in a world of contingent horizons, our sense of meaning
depends, critically, on our powers of expression. "And that discovering a
framework of meaning is interwoven with invention" [1].
Whether or not this generation of utopian political movements can avoid new
forms of authoritarianism will depend on the vigilant defense of the
expressevist dimension and its subversive freedoms. History shows artists
are like the canaries that used to be carried by miners, they give early
warning of toxins in the ether.

The greatest danger for Telestreet is to split along the faultlines of any
of the modalities. If Telestreets (indeed all tactical media) are to retain
their characteristic bite; militancy, activism and expressevism must all be
present or all will be lost. In each of the particular cases of a
Telestreet, one or two of these modalities will always predominate, but it
is only by retaining all three, in variable orchestrations, that we will see
the formation of real difference, effectiveness and freedom.

Global Telestreet
Whatever the differences within the Telestreet movement there is consensus
on the need to scale up. Some voices would like to see it gain its own
national frequency others would prefer local autonomy to prevail with each
Telestreet extending and intensifying the process of expansion through
networking and the sharing of content. Making the dream of effectively
hybridizing Telestreet through networking and content sharing was explored
in different ways throughout the days of the meeting. From Alan Toner¹s
(Autonomedia) [1] detailed and knowledgeable exposition of the ways in which
the approaches of "the creative commons" movement were being and could be
further applied to Telestreets through to the technical solutions being
offered by New Global Vision [3].

The remarkable NGVision project was founded in the wake of the Genoa G8
protests. It set out to make the hundreds of hours of activist material
freely accessible in a single location as common resouce. They currently
have the space of 5 servers, stocked with around 300 videos, with a new tape
being added at least once a week. NGVision uses bit-torrent to make the
download times relatively fast, an hour of video can be downloaded in
approximately fifteen minutes. NGVision is already in extensive use with
approximately 10.000 videos being downloaded per month. NGVision has offered
its system for use by all Telestreets in Italy and beyond.

Although the local roots and Italian political theater help to make
Telestreet strong the atmosphere can also be rather self referential and
inward looking. But there is a growing realization that to survive
Telestreet needs to reach beyond the conceptual boundaries of national
politics. Slowly a translocal awareness is occurring in part through the
work of writers like Agnese Trocchi and Mateo, Pasquinelli and Mark Coté
whose work is helping to spread the Telestreet virus. Versions of Telestreet
are already beginning to spring up in Holland, Switzerland (Proxyvision) and
most recently as Telesione Piquetera the first Telestreet in Argentina [4].

Cecelia Landsman and myself were attending the meeting on behalf of
Amsterdam¹s version of Telestreet: Proxyvision. In our presentation we
emphasized the translocal dimension of Telestreet [5].
Italian Telestreet works in part because it is embedded in local histories
but is also through inspiring similar initiatives elsewhere. Our point is
that once these initiatives take hold active connections and support from
the more developed Italian Telestreets will take the project down pathways
unconstrained by the puppet show of national party politics.  The ways in
which this process is already occurring are helping to a relatively new kind
of *situated metropolitan tactics*. From this perspective, rather than
imagining that the networks have made boarders disappear, we see
the emergence of new ways of organizing locally that (by the very act of
connecting across and through our differences) lead us towards something
like a "global sense of place".

David Garcia


[1] Sources of the Self. Charles Taylor 1993

I later found a quote of Alan Toner from an essay he wrote about the
anti-Iraq war demo in Rome which could equally be applied in the Telestreet
context. "Challenges on this scale put into perspective the sniping between
different radical factions and pose once again the problems of
representation. How can practices of self-organisation, democracy and direct
action proliferate?"

[3] http://www.ngvision.org/index.en.html


[5] Proxyvision Presentation

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